Readings for First Sunday in Lent 25 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out First Sunday in Lent Textweek

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13


In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

So, we are here in Lent and the first Sunday in Lent is obviously the beginning of something, the start or the catalyst that has got the potential to change the world. Sounds quite daunting put that way and yet we can and we do witness the world changing day by day. Looking at world-changing movements by the filtered news services on our televisions and we can, if we choose, or perhaps if we find the place whereby we can choose, then we can participate in the bringing about of change. And that’s what the Lenten journey is about. Lent is a life experience and a life expression, not a forty day religious procession. We can use the ritual of Lent and the time, the forty days of Lent to create or recreate within, a life direction. Lent is an opportunity for us to check life’s compass and to set or reset a true course.

Now a quick checklist of today’s readings clearly shows that, in regard to the word of God, there is much that is still to be heard. Deuteronomy demands the giving of the first fruits, the first fruits of our harvest, giving them to the Lord. Not very Anglican is it? More correctly in verses 2 and 3, giving to the place chosen as God’s dwelling place. More particularly than that, ‘and to the priest who is in office at that time.’ I think we should dwell on this text. What we might do is get you to come up one by one to describe the first fruits of your harvest, whatever they might be, whether it be your house or the beach house down the coast, your business, the bucket-load of super-ann that sitting there waiting, whatever you consider your first fruits and work out how we can transfer them into my name. If we could achieve that this morning we’d be off to a good Lent, or one of us would be off anyway! The word of God - we don’t hear it, we gloss over it or we’ve been taught something. How can one translate that into ‘give up something for Lent’?

Look at the psalm. The psalm asks us to make the Lord your refuge and the Most High your dwelling place and no evil shall befall you. If we could hear that, hear the truth in it, we might choose to invest more in education than we do in defence. What would the world look like if we did that – if we swapped the defence budget with the education budget, what would be the outcome?

Romans identifies some startling revelations: Christ is the end of the Law and so the door to righteousness for all. What does that say about the Law; what does it mean, ‘Christ is the end of the Law’? But there is more in Romans still to be heard: ‘there is no distinction between Jew and Greek’ Of course not. We heard that didn’t we - no distinction between Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Christian, gay and straight, black and white, indigenous and alien? We live in a world that at times appears to only have distinctions. Just in those three readings alone there is much to be heard. Lent therefore is an opportunity for us to listen to the divine word – not the divine word that has been taught for two thousand years, not the divine word that has been institutionalised into the museum of the Church, but rather the divine word that will allow the voice spoken in these scriptures to be heard in us and change us.

Let’s look at the Gospel because perhaps that is a starting point, the Gospel reading for the first day of Lent - what is revealed, what is revealed in the Gospel, the witness to Christ. It’s a straightforward and familiar narrative – ‘oh yes, he was tempted in the desert and because he was Jesus he resisted temptation.’ Look at it a little closer; there’s some movement in there that I think is good for us to get. Right at the beginning, verse 1: Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit, and then he was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, and finally coming out of the wilderness, was filled with the power of the Spirit. The wilderness experience is not, as is so often portrayed, dependent upon a divine ‘Other’. God did not lead Jesus into the wilderness; God did not rescue him from the wilderness; God did not intervene in the narrative at all. Notice that the Spirit is there, within.

Remember Christmas, the gift that was given. What was the gift that was given? The Divine is given to humanity. In this narrative what we have is Christ revealing the potential, the spirit of fullness that we all have and that we have already. It’s a simple, yet quite a profound teaching and it’s contextualised right at the beginning, it’s almost underlined: ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan.’ The picture that we have is Christ in his fullness immediately after his baptism; he stands and he is in the place where the Church claims to stand. We claim ourselves as a baptized people in the spirit of Christ – that’s where we stand.

Like us, immediately from standing in that place, he’s confronted by temptation, so those of us that are confronted by temptation can find ourselves once again in the narrative. ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Stunningly archaic, what on earth has that got to do with today? Think of the mining industry that converts stones into bread, an industry that creates life, life based on digging stones and converting them to bread, to livelihoods. Listen to our politicians talk of the mining industry, the saviour of our economic future; there’s a thread there that suggests that if one sees the world in economic terms one can almost see the conversion of stone into bread as representing a life direction.

The temptation of the glory and authority of all the kingdoms in verse 5: Roman empire, Spanish empire, British empire, the U.S. empires; they’ve all risen and they’ve all fallen or are falling, by the same temptation: the glory and authority of all the kingdoms.

The third temptation, taking place on the pinnacle of the temple, is about the need for security and protection. Could we in the modern age, in the modern world even begin to trust in the protection of angels? Imagine what a policy shift it would be if the defence budget was completely taken away and the Prime Minister got up and said, ‘It’s okay, we’re protected by angels.’ That’d be him gone at the next election wouldn’t it! But what do we put our trust in and what do we put our faith in? Somehow defence budgets seem to be directly proportional to the number of refugees: if you put an extra dollar into the defence budget you can almost plot one more refugee moves into a refugee camp. The number of wars in the world – funny that, isn’t it amazing that if you invest in arms you end up with more wars! You would think that investing in arms would create peace wouldn’t you? The number of people who starve on the planet follows the same plot as the rise in defence budgets. Maybe it is time for us to look, to hear what on earth is being meant when we’re asked to trust in other forces that are not of our own making.

The Gospel narrative ends with Jesus continuing his journey undeterred by temptation. The question is where will we be in our life journey by the end of Lent? Deuteronomy says ‘When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it …..’ When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance: this is not about establishing the nation of Israel; this is not about creating borders and owning a land. When you come into a new understanding found in your wanderings through Lent, then and maybe only then will we find a new generosity and our fullness of spirit, our empowerment. It’s couched in a language that looks to be about the land, but the landscape that the Bible talks about is always a landscape within. The psalm describes this new land and the psalm enables us to see clearer. This is not a place, this is actually about presence: ‘You who live in the shelter of the Divine.’

If we can find this place and know this place and stay in this place, a place of Divine presence, then we discover the truth of Romans; we will discover an end to the Law. That doesn’t mean mayhem, it actually means an end to that which controls our cultural norms. And from that place, bringing an end to that Law, we find there are no distinctions, we will find it is all for one and one for all: one body in Christ.

Peter Humphris